With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, Irish horror movie Unwelcome finds its way onto VOD platforms. For horror fans who just aren’t into Leprechaun, director Jon Wright’s incorporation of Celtic folklore and the legend of redcaps may be more appealing. Several years ago, Wright impressed critics and fans alike with his low-budget monster movie, Grabbers. So far Unwelcome has generated some fairly positive critical responses.
When a violent home invasion ends their celebration, Maya and Jamie need to escape their urban London apartment. Shortly thereafter, Jamie learns he has inherited his recently deceased aunt’s house in rural Ireland. Charming and rustic, the house is a fixer-upper that comes along with strange tales about the inhabitants of the old woods along the backyard. Neighbours urge the couple to leave out raw meat for the Redcaps – small, vicious goblins who they claim live in the woods. And the family the couple hires to do home repairs become increasingly unruly and violent.
Unwelcome Can’t Quite Make Its Two Halves Work as a Cohesive Whole
Irish director Jon Wright made a name for himself several years ago with his low-budget creature feature, Grabbers. Here, Wright returns to somewhat familiar territory with a bit of a caveat. In his own words, the director describes Unwelcome as “Straw Dogs meets Gremlins“. Though it sounds like an interesting concept, the result inevitably feels a bit disjointed. A couple of second act scenes tease the redcaps – the atmosphere also makes sure you don’t forget about them. But Wright largely regulates them to the background in favour of the boorish ‘Daddy’ Whelan and his offspring.
In his own words, the director describes Unwelcome as “Straw Dogs meets Gremlins“. Though it sounds like an interesting concept, the result inevitably feels a bit disjointed.
In fact, the bulk of Unwelcome’s second act revolves around its Irish spin on Straw Dogs as the Whelan’s increasingly terrorize Maya and Jamie. Wright and his co-writer, Mark Stay, don’t do much to distinguish their story from just about any other rural horror movie where city folk run afoul of the locals. Eventually Unwelcome unleashes it redcaps in the final act and Wright delivers the kind of creature feature you were expecting. There’s some wildly fun, over-the-top bits that offset any concerns about the inherent silliness of goblins. And the final scene goes completely bonkers. While it’s not a case of ‘too little, too late’, it does leave the movie feeling fractured.
Unwelcome Needed a Bit More of Its Goblins
Of course, you can’t have a creature feature without convincing creatures. And the potential that killer goblins might look silly was high. Fortunately, good practical effects and Wright’s inventiveness with the camera ensures the little monsters work quite well. It also helps that Wright creates a tone that allows him to insert his little monsters into the final act without things feeling too jarring. If there’s a complaint with Unwelcome, it’s that you’ll probably wish that the movie worked the redcaps into the story earlier and more frequently.
If there’s a complaint with Unwelcome, it’s that you’ll probably wish that the movie worked the redcaps into the story earlier and more frequently.
This may be a creature feature, but it’s Hannah John-Kamen’s (Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City) movie. She steals each and every scene in which she’s present. And it’s her character arc that defines the movie’s emotional core. This presents a problem for the movie when it effectively sidelines her for chunks of the middle act. Comparatively, Douglas Booth’s ‘Jamie’ isn’t just a less interesting character – he’s often frustrating. Perhaps Wright and Stay intended to subvert expectations with Jamie’s ’emasculation’ plotline. Regardless of the rationale, the character quickly becomes tiring. Not surprisingly, Colm Meaney is appropriately menacing in a performance that overcomes subgenre tropes.
Unwelcome a Flawed, But Very Watchable Creature Feature
There’s a lot to appreciate about Jon Wright’s Unwelcome. On one hand, the mixing of subgenres is ambitious even if it results in a somewhat disjointed effort. And Wright shows off a lot of creative flair behind the camera. Whether it’s the ways in which he makes the redcaps plausible on screen or the shading and colours in how he films the rural Irish home, Wright clearly has talent to spare. Not everything works here – Unwelcome can’t help but feel like two very different movies forced into a single one. Arguably, this creature feature needed a bit more of its creature. But Unwelcome still warrants a watch from horror fans.